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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Observance, Marriage, Women in Judaism (4/12)
Section - Question 8.4: What is the Orthodox view of the role of women in Judaism?

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   The role of women in Orthodox Jewish life, like the role of men, is a
   complex and dynamic product of the myriad components of life. In
   Orthodox Jewish thought, religious observance encompasses a broad
   spectrum of areas including but not limited to observance of the
   Sabbath and dietary laws, contemplation, social interaction, personal
   development, business practice and charity. The role of the Jewish
   woman involves all of these areas as well as many others.
   These general components of the role of the Jewish woman are constant
   throughout history. However, the particular manifestations of these
   components differ from era to era and person to person. Jewish law
   does not regulate every detail of life, but provides a basic structure
   within which each person may express their own personality.
   Throughout the centuries, the occupations of wife and mother have been
   primary vehicles of religious expression and duty for Jewish women.
   Indeed, throughout history, the vast majority of women of all cultures
   and religions have focused their energies on these roles. While debate
   rages throughout contemporary society as to the origin and benefit of
   these roles for women, it is widely recognized throughout the Orthodox
   Jewish world that the roles of wife and mother afford tremendous
   opportunity for spiritual expression and growth. Home-life in Orthodox
   Judaism is a rich world of familial love, nurturing of others, prayer,
   intellect, and communal festivity. One could argue that it is a far
   more interesting and spiritually satisfying world than the corporate
   work-environment. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, women are
   not forbidden to hold jobs. Again, Torah law does not micro-manage
   people's lives. Torah philosophy does emphasize that occupations for
   material acquisition be secondary to higher religious activities such
   as family-life, prayer, and charity, but this principle applies to men
   as well as to women.
   According to many classical Torah authorities, women are not required
   to get married. A woman could find a place in Orthodox Judaism without
   involvement in the roles of wife and mother. Nevertheless, the vast
   majority of Orthodox Jewish women in our times find these roles
   central to their divine service. The exact degree of centrality and
   manner of expression will differ from woman to woman. But it is
   recognized in Torah thought in general that dedication to others is a
   virtue. Family-life is an ideal setting for such dedication since the
   personal lives of family members overlap in myriad ways.
   Thus, the role of the Jewish woman is not easily defined, as it will
   assume different forms as each woman develops herself in accordance
   with the general parameters of Jewish law and philosophy.
   Many, when looking at this issue, have trouble reconciling it with
   egalitarian positions where women are viewed as having equal rights.
   When exploring the Orthodox view, there is an important distinction to
   be made: rights vs. obligations. Traditional Judaism looks at actions
   in terms of duties and obligations, not the modern socio-political
   notions of rights. Thus, in Traditional Judaism, men and women have
   different duties and obligations; the question of rights never arises.
   You can find more on this subject in the book Male and Female He
   Created Them from Targum/Feldheim.

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